I simply can’t get the 6542 out of my head recently. There’s the timeless charm. The radium (or not). The understated proportions. However, not all examples age quite this gracefully. The soul of a GMT is its dial, and this dial is utterly marvelous. However, the watch was not born with it. Rolex history is complicated. More on that later. The point is this; there is this sliver-wide subset of vintage watches which have faced the stream of time and been made more beautiful by its effects. The majority of watches deteriorate from material degradation or abuse. Only the few ever reach and end state this even.
As I outlined recently, the 1960s and outset of the jet age spawned a new problem. Time-zone tracking. Pilot’s standardization to a constant reference Greenwich mean time solved that issue. Rolex adapted their travel companion to include a running hour hand with a secondary timezone. The watch was an iteration on the 3346 and later turnograph movement. The result was a tool that became inseparably associated with new wealth and the burgeoning jet set. The 6542 was intended for pilots, but largely adopted by late 60s and early 70s playboys. Omega tried to compete but their efforts have been largely forgotten outside of watch collectors. Rolex’s simple solution has stood the test of time.
Perhaps even more impressively, the GMT-Master hasn’t wavered from its throne for even a day in its 66 year reign. The watch is a relentless icon. I don’t know of single model more recognizable to non-watch people, with the possible exception of the submariner, and even then I’m not sure about that.
Let’s cover this example. The dial is a service replacement but from period. That is to say, someone brought their radium job into Rolex after it was learned that radiation may not be the best source of luminous material. So this is a period gilt dial, still technically correct. Just not original. It has endured to become a mocha tone with an impressively even distribution. You almost never see them this lovely. The bezel insert was also replaced, to a fat font Pepsi of the later generation. Hands were changed to match. So this might not be the radium/bakelite original, but I defy you to tell me this isn’t attractive. The tritium is intact and matched. Its case has strong lugs and it comes on a later non-rivet Oyster bracelet. It comes from a small, well-regarded retailer who I think put it better than I could: originality or soul?
Find this 6542 here from Grey & Patina for 52000 USD.